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It’s all Greek to me

Photos courtesy Mr. Greek

By John Kakarelis
When I was growing up in Toronto as part of a Greek family, I became very familiar with the original Mr. Greek restaurant and its management, long before it grew into a chain of franchises. Today, I own and operate the system’s top-performing franchise, in the city’s east end. Approaching my 10th anniversary with the restaurant, I credit my success to an attention to detail, renovations and customer service that I learned from the franchisor.

The road to business ownership
I’ve lived in Toronto my whole life. Both of my parents are Greek. My dad came here in the early 1950s with five brothers and three sisters. My mom, meanwhile, arrived in the early 1960s by herself, with the rest of her family remaining in Greece.

My older brother George and I grew up in the west end, near Weston Road and Highway 401. I enjoyed playing sports, especially hockey and baseball. I didn’t do very well at school, but I liked science and gym classes. I also worked at a submarine sandwich shop off and on from the age of 16.

After graduating from high school, I went to George Brown College to study for work in the air conditioning industry. That landed me a job repairing fridges and appliances for a company that was also based in the west end. It was my first ‘real’ job and I worked very hard at it, putting in 12-hour days even though I was only being paid for seven.

I bought an existing Mr. Greek franchise in 2007 on Toronto’s Golden Mile, near the intersection of Eglinton and Warden Avenues.

Two years in, I asked my boss for a raise. He was going through a divorce and said he couldn’t do anything to help me. I got frustrated with the situation and decided to quit.

I took a couple of years to travel and figure out what I wanted to do for a career. One thing I knew was I had always wanted to own a business.

A friend of mine, Themi, owned a submarine sandwich franchise on Keele Street just south of Finch Avenue, also in the west end. It was a free-standing store, which was rare for that type of chain. It was an octagonal building that used to be a Bobby Orr Pizzeria. With my parents helping out, I bought it from him in 1999. In turn, he bought another location just up the street, at Keele and Rutherford Road.

I would run that franchise for almost 10 years, during which time I met my wife, Cynthia. Initially, her brother Bachir worked for me while she was studying at university in Ottawa. When she came back to Toronto for summer work in 2001, I hired her. We soon hit it off and we got married in 2004.

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